Talk about your northern Indian food--Village Tandoor is the northernmost Indian restaurant within L.A.'s city limits. It's also the northernmost place in the Valley where you can order goat in any form but birria, although the menu feebly veils its goat identity as "mutton."
The place is off in an obscure corner of a big Northridge shopping plaza, physically elevated a few feet above the parking lot. And elevated in tone as well--the walls feature quiet Indian genre paintings of sari-clad women serenely performing the immemorial household tasks of spinning and churning.
I must confess that what drew me there was the lure of goat curry, but Village Tandoor turns out to be much more than some sort of goat house. It's a substantial north Indian restaurant with a long menu of lamb, chicken, seafood and vegetarian dishes, not to mention all the usual tandoori specialties. It has all the trappings too, including a Sunday champagne lunch buffet.
You can start a meal with an appetizer, if you like--the potato pakoras are fried particularly crisp in their garbanzo flour breading. But you're better off getting one of the set dinners, which include a range of side dishes. With a lamb dish, for instance, you get a bland bean-based mulligatawny soup, a sweet, earthy, buttery dal of tiny moth (teppary beans), vegetable biryani (pilaf mixed with carrot and zucchini shreds), saag paneer (spinach with cheese) and a choice of green salad or raita (mostly yogurt with only a bit of cucumber in it).
The tandoori dishes are perfectly cooked, with the tandoori chicken coming out smokier than you might expect. The other dishes are definitely worth checking out, though. They represent the sort of north Indian food in which the sauces are rich and aromatic but all the spice notes sort of cancel one another out in a grand, impressive spice diapason. The sauces are all really delicious, doubtless because of a free hand with butter.
Particular sauces give a different impression with different meats; for instance, the masala sauce on lamb seems to have a more noticeable tomato flavor than the one with chicken. The waiter insists the reason is not different ingredients but differences in cooking. Unlike many a north Indian restaurant, Village Tandoor will make your food spicy if you assure the waiter you're serious.
The perfect example of this style of cooking at its best is chicken tikka masala. It's remarkably tender pieces of tandoori chicken swimming in a luscious, buttery sauce, mildly sweet, with a little tomato.
In the lamb curry, you can detect paprika and plenty of coriander. The basic impression the sauce gives, though, is of a rich, savory onion mush. The meaty sauce on the lamb bhuna has sliced onions and green peppers in it, and probably some tomato sauce as well.
Karhai chicken has some tomato in the sauce, and possibly cardamom.
The most distinctive sauce is on the navratan curry--potatoes, carrots and cauliflower in a rich, sweetish coconut sauce.
The seafood section is shrimp with half a dozen of the usual sauces, except that you can also get fish (usually salmon) with the masala sauce, which in this case has a light red color and a brighter flavor.
As for the goat, it has the gamy flavor goat-fanciers love, though sometimes there's a rather high quotient of bones in a serving. It's very good in a lively tomato-based masala sauce. On the other hand, mutton pudhina, though it has an intriguing sound--goat in mint sauce--strikes me as an evasive, mistaken idea, like chewing mint leaves in the vain hope of covering up bad breath; you'd be better off without them.
Any rice dish is bound to be good here, particularly the pilaf with raisins and whole cardamom pods, and so are the breads, such as onion kulcha, which has a nice crunchy texture. The usual Indian desserts are on hand--gulab jamun, mango or pistachio ice cream, a rich rice pudding.
Goat meat is where you find it. Up here in the north Valley, you can find it with champagne.
Village Tandoor, Northridge Center, 18530 Devonshire St., Northridge. (818) 366-2820; fax, (818) 366-2840. Lunch, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily; dinner, 5 to 10 p.m. daily. Beer and wine. Parking lot. All major cards. Dinner for two, $24.50 to $40.50. Weekday lunch buffet, $6.95; Sunday champagne lunch buffet, $8.95.
What to get: potato pakoras, vegetable pakoras, vegetable biryani, chicken tikka masala, lamb curry, lamb bhuna, mutton masala.